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Schizophrenia Spectrum Superpowers In Context ‒ Part 1

Written by: Lake Angela, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Context makes all the difference when it comes to appreciating and supporting schizophrenia spectrum creators. In the current context, there is scarce support for those on the schizophrenia spectrum seeking to continue living in ways meaningful to us. The greatest lament I see from others called schizoaffective is the lack of opportunity to use our insight in meaningful ways and exclusion from the only societal context most of us know and to which we desire to contribute. Even those paid to offer support in the capacity of professional helpers and psychotherapists consistently try to impress upon their euphemistically-called clients that we are in fact sick or diseased. How can we expect to accomplish anything near our expansive potential when we are constantly suppressed as too chronically ill to attempt our aims? We are advised not to try to achieve our goals because stress can induce an episode of psychosis that with the requisite support and strength we can see through, but which others are unwilling to tolerate because it makes many neurotypical people uncomfortable to witness such suffering.

Woman lying on the ground with a lot of medicine bottle in her mouth.

During several of my multiple hospitalizations, I was heavily drugged and warned by doctors and other professionals not to study for a creative writing MFA, and even when I had defied such advice and done so successfully, still more medical professionals warned me against the pressures of doctoral research. I earned my Ph.D. while teaching undergraduates and studying dance and choreography in addition to my intersemiotic translation research. Yes, it was perhaps more difficult for me to complete such endeavors because of the effects of stress on psychotic thinking and the constant struggle against sexism and neurotypical prejudices in some professors who held authority over me. Nevertheless, I am capable, and others on the schizophrenia spectrum are as well. In fact, not only are we capable, but our special powers of associative thinking are beneficial to artistic endeavors and research. It takes those of us with original ideas—a beneficial aspect of schizophrenia spectrum thinking—to further develop relatively new fields like intersemiotics. Furthermore, accommodations should be available from student support services for schizophrenia spectrum students as they are for autistic students who request them.


How can those in helping roles really expect to help at all unless they reexamine their prejudices against their schizophrenia spectrum patients and actually see them as clients, valuable in their unusual abilities, rather than just substituting the term “client” for “mentally ill patient”? As it stands now, helping professionals effectively say, Don’t try for anything that will make you feel more fulfilled and worthwhile because if you struggle—and you will—those around you will feel uncomfortable. Instead, let us suppress your cognitive and emotional faculties with neuroleptic drugs so you do not even realize you are no longer motivated. Never mind that you then become even more depressed…


Let’s be honest. Neuroleptic drugs are not medications. The term medicine is also a euphemism when it comes to so-called antipsychotics. As I’ve pointed out before, anti-psychotic is a misnomer, as these drugs have no relationship to psychosis. Antipsychotics are simply neuroleptics or major tranquilizers, pharmaceutical concoctions that suppress feeling and cognition to large degrees. (Their counterparts, minor tranquilizers, include the benzodiazepines that induce moments or hours of tranquility but cause dependency and eventually memory difficulty.) Major tranquilizers cause long-lasting effects that many medicated patients describe as making them feel like “zombies” who walk stiffly and mechanically, experience little to no affect, and even drool and fall asleep on their feet with no power to prevent such behavior.


Let’s face it: neuroleptic drugs are nothing at all like medicines that can fight or eliminate disease. They are far removed from antibiotics that dispel bacteria and leave the patient feeling “cured.” There is no “cure” for schizophrenia spectrum conditions, nor does there need to be, with a more balanced approach free from current prejudices against us. Psychotic thinking is a neurodivergence, a different “wiring of the brain” as is used to describe autism. No amount of neuroleptic drug is able to normalize diverse brain wiring. Prescribers cannot even pretend that neuroleptics are intended to do so, even though pharmaceutical companies that make and manufacture them en masse would like us to believe so. Major tranquilizers quite simply leave the victim with excessively decreased ability to sense and react; these drugs drain energy and suppress cognitive and emotional function. As a result, helpers and the general public feel less disrupted or uncomfortable due to this minority’s unusual behaviors.


The term behavioral health in itself is a detestable misnomer and is not an improvement over the previous terms, the insane or lunatic asylum. Neither is the term insane inherently negative; it receives that connotation only from a strictly neurotypical understanding. Insanity, just like any alogical mode of knowing, is not intrinsically bad. It has its positive creative and productive uses. I propose we reclaim the word insane as some have claimed the term Mad as an alternative to behavioral health correction. The new title for the insane asylum, the behavioral health institution, implies that my behavior is somehow unhealthy and exacerbates or causes illness. This is inaccurate. Odd behaviors such as making repetitive gestures are healthy for me because they help to reduce my anxiety in times of pressure. However, since such gestures may make neurotypical people uncomfortable, it seems that many would prefer I receive “medication” or “correction”—some, it seems, would even prefer I am drugged into a submissive stupor or blackmailed into unhealthy compliance by the promise of the return of my right to freedom outside the institution’s gates.


Why is autism acceptable as a neurodivergence and some with autism now rightly shown respect and provided appropriate accommodation in a world not designed for them but schizophrenia is despised as a violent and frightening disease? This does not make logical sense when we consider that early diagnostic criteria described by Eugene Bleuler categorized schizophrenia as a more severe form of autism. Even in the 1970’s, the demarcation between the two conditions was blurred. Children who would now meet the criteria for autism were then diagnosed with early-onset schizophrenia. Again today, research is showing that the two conditions might in fact belong to the same continuum on which the autism spectrum at one end stretches to schizophrenia at the other, eventually wrapping back around to include those with distinct qualities of both conditions. Today the so-called negative symptoms of the schizophrenia spectrum (not “bad” symptoms, but those like aphasia, lack of energy, halting speech, etc.) are considered equivalent to a kind of autism. Those with more positive aspects of schizophrenia spectrum thinking, such as original thinking, delusion, paranoia, visions, etc., are high on the schizophrenia side of the spectrum. If, in fact, autism and schizophrenia are both expressions of the same genetic deletion on chromosome 22 (see also here), it is absolutely false and detrimental to uphold those called autistic as neurodivergent and denounce those considered more schizophrenic as mentally ill and dangerous.


Furthermore, it seems that the “right” balance of autistic and schizophrenic traits could make for the ideal in terms of creative productivity. Positive schizo behavior like magical thinking, original or “bizarre” ideas, a hypomanic drive to create as can be found in schizoaffective and bipolar expressions of psychotic thinking, and so forth, balanced with the focus and attention to specific detail found on the autism part of the spectrum, means that those extreme on both ends of the spectrum are actually balanced in such a way that they are able not only to conceptualize but to realize their creative ideas. Schizo- people may be very creative but also can struggle with the focus and support needed to achieve so-called creative eminence under the often-oppressive attitudes and extreme prejudices of our current cultural context.


The attitude toward schizophrenia spectrum thinking must change. We should be respected and appreciated for our qualitative differences and potential and should also have the opportunities to see our ideas to fruition just as neurotypical people award themselves such opportunities. A societal paradigm shift is long overdue and immediately necessary before our professional helpers are paid to suppress and hinder even more visionaries and artists. I am excited to read about the genetic connection of autism and schizophrenia because this means greater equality for us, but some doctors are excited about such research because the findings mean that if the right chromosomal deletion is detected in utero, they can give prospective parents the opportunity to delete the potentially schizophrenic or autistic child.


As a disclaimer that I feel I must address, I am aware that there is a lot of debate about whether my long-held diagnosis even exists independently of schizophrenia and bipolar conditions with psychotic experiences. I am sure that my diagnosis will soon be dated, just as the DSM is already far behind current research and is unlikely ever to catch up with the intuitive understandings of our conditions that those of us with lived experience can provide. My response for the time being, however, is simply that no diagnosis exists as its own independent category. No one is static. Everyone exists along a spectrum. Naturally, my explanations and attempts to clarify in the accepted societal terms set out by psychology as a field are severely limited by the constrictions characteristic of diagnostic terminology—which do not reflect the real, intuitive, more complete understandings of those of us with lived experience.


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Lake Angela, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Lake Angela is a poet, translator, and dancer-choreographer who creates at the confluence of verbal language and movement. As Director of the international multimedia group Companyia Lake Angela, they offer sessions in guided healing through poetry and movement and provide a platform for schizophrenia spectrum creativity. Their full-length books of poetry, Organblooms (2020) and Words for the Dead (2021), are published by FutureCycle Press. As poetry editor for Punt Volat, they select and publish innovative new poetry in four languages with co-founder Kevin Richard Kaiser. As co-founder of Poetry Midwives Editing Services, they help aspiring writers polish their manuscripts for publication. Lake holds a PhD from The University of Texas at Dallas for their intersemiotic translations of German Expressionist poetry into dance and their MFA in poetry.

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